Monday, June 1, 2009
Waking Up To The Word On Multicultural Marketing
By Kendall Allen For an entire period within digital, there has been a serious move to organize around and get smart on multicultural marketing. On the agency side and internally within brand organizations -- we organized for it, designated directors of it -- and certainly started to buy and sell media with multicultural audiences in mind. New businesses emerged: media ad and publisher networks, creative production enterprises, niche agencies. Larger agencies feeling the gap acquired boutique specialists and deemed them multicultural divisions. Thought leadership and programming reflected the focus on understanding diverse markets -- panels, roundtables, workshops and speakers everywhere took on the topic of "multicultural marketing."
It was a line drawn. We always knew who to go to within our agencies to get driving insights, market intelligence, a helping hand with retooling a plan. It always seemed awkwardly compartmentalized.
In fact, through all this, if you were really listening, it seemed like the people who really knew the business of this discipline, early on began dismissing or qualifying the term, the very word "multicultural." The declaration, "All marketing essentially is multicultural" has been thrown down more than once by people who know what time it is. And the really savvy ones had very specific directional advice that the market now seems to be heeding.
As with so many aspects of our business, this one that we have been calling "multicultural" has been notably maturing over recent years, as marketers and media providers seem to get more serious about getting the nuances right when talking about targeting diverse markets.
We have noticed that conversations about this realm are a little bit more so-then-what?; agency or brand-side organizations around it are not totally getting off the ground; and, on the publisher side, there is a real evolution of the terrain. The stats and trends are dawning on us:
Even as all this becomes obvious and we recognize that "multicultural marketing" does not quite fit the bill, our move away from the construct of "multi-cultural marketing" as a distinct discipline feels resistant and wobbly. So, as I've been focusing on understanding where things are really going, listening to friends, clients and peers, it seems clear to me that there are several market shaping movements that will move us along:
Multicultural Org Redux
We've all worked within agency environments or called on clients where some sort of multicultural structure was in place: resident guru, internal specialty agency; task force; evangelist; appointed strategic planning expert. Just as multicultural seems to be going away as a budget line item or a plan within a tier, these kinds of structures are being restructured and dismantled as companies trade up for a more integrated, intelligence-based approach. We've seen this with CPG brands, at agencies and at large media companies with vast buying power. They're breaking it down and doing something different with the new levels of intelligence that have been developed. So what is the intelligence?
Good Marketing is Multicultural
In tune with the declaration referenced above -- that "all marketing essentially is multicultural" -- savvy marketers seem to be recognizing that understanding the relative diversity of your market and succeeding, doesn't necessarily mean calling out multicultural as a discrete layer and going at it hard. It does mean knowing your target segments inside and out, beyond ethnicity and into lifestyle, geographic, behavioral and linguistic considerations -- so that you may target and message your marketing as thoughtfully as possible. For example:
So, as all of this is given more thought, there is a greater investment in gathering the right intelligence and behavioral analytics to skillfully run integrated marketing efforts and place culturally relevant media within that effort.
An Opening of the Opportunity
As multicultural planning is reorganized, budgets shift, and there is generally greater awareness of the interplay of ethnicity, geography, behavioral, linguistics and so on -- publishers and media companies serving up audience seem to be widening the scope. Rather than delivering narrow slices of specific demographics on the basis of straight ethnicity or even in-language consumerism, there is a "general market" environment emerging. And, that is a much heartier picture. If you could buy general market at greater scale, with better targeting based on a more sophisticated set of cultural considerations across the board, you'd be in a pretty good situation. There's a solid value proposition in that.
Having felt a certain mumbling around the topic of multicultural within agency planning sessions and certainly while facing the client, I've been intrigued by the focus on getting to a more informed vantage point. That is, a more intelligently armed and active stance on what we've been calling "multicultural." I imagine the next few years will see a lot of action in the market, as currencies around this begin to flow, and we free ourselves of these past constraints and limited thinking. As it goes with maturity, it's never just about organization or method or changing your name; it's about deepened perspective.
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Kendall Allen is headquartered in New York City. She consults for publishers and agencies on integrating digital -- most recently at MKTG, where she just completed a long-term assignment. Previously she was managing director of Incognito Digital, LLC, an independent digital media agency and creative studio. She also held top posts at iCrossing and Fathom Online.
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